Being on your own is dope. You have a new job, picked your own spot, you might be in a new city, you may or may not have a roommate, and probably think you are on top of the world. One of the first things everybody will do in your new city is tell you great places to go eat. Your coworkers may take you to a new place uptown for drinks and appetizers. Some college buddies in town might get you hooked on a trendy spot with a bomb calamari plate. After a couple nights of this your bank account is starting to look a little slim. $8 drinks and $27.50 meals can add up quickly. You get home that night and try to figure out how you spent $58 on yourself on food and drinks in like two hours. Trust me, I’ve been there. So what do you do now? Turn to Ramen? Short answer? Hell nah (to be honest, I’ve had Ramen once in my life and plan to never have it again, so go ahead and slander me all you want). But let me give you a couple of steps on how to budget your food properly.
1. Don’t be afraid to bargain shop. Right now on my keychain I have an MVP Card (Food Lion), VIP Card (Harris Teeter), and Fresh Rewards Card (Lowes Food). Before I go to the store I’ll check to see what meats are on sale, who is doing a buy one get one on pork chops, and if Kool Aid packets are 4 for $1 again. There have been plenty of times I wanted to have a certain meat to cook that week, but found another one on sale. Know what I did? Changed my plans, and bought the meat on sale. Great example…last week I had planned on buying salmon but instead made some grilled pork chops, roasted brussel sprouts and rice. Harris Teeter had BOGO packages of chops. Each package had about 5 or 6 chops, and they were pretty meaty. So I ended up getting 11 pork chops for $5.58. I can’t even get a #1 from Chick-fil-A for that price. And these chops lasted me about a week for lunch/dinner. The sprouts were about $2 and lasted me all week, and the rice cost me about $1.50. So in total I spent around $10 for food that gave me 5 or 6 meals. Now obviously this doesn’t include ingredients I already had at home (seasoning, olive oil, butter, etc.). But my point is bargain shopping isn’t just for old ladies. I don’t bring 100 coupons to the check-out line, but I do my research before I go to the store. I usually like to get my meat from Harris Teeter or Fresh Market, so I’ll check their specials online before anywhere else. If I don’t find something I like there I’ll look at Lowes Food, and then Food Lion. Nothing wrong with going to multiple stores to get deals on different items.
2. Plan your meals. I grew up in a household where leftovers were a staple. Cook big meals on Sunday, and eat the leftovers until Tuesday or Wednesday. Didn’t like that? Tough break, enjoy going hungry. So now that I’m on my own, I’ve carried this over to my own kitchen. My parents are great cooks, so I’ve had the privilege of learning from them how to make everything from fried chicken to chicken cordon bleu. This wide repertoire gives me the flexibility to switch up meals and not eat the same thing every week. Most weeks I’ll look at my after work schedule and pick out a day that is best for me to cook. Last week that day was Thursday. Other weeks it could be Saturday night, or the classic Sunday afternoon. You just have to find what day works for you. So last week before Scandal, I made the pork chop dinner I talked about in my Rule #1. I knew I would eat it that night, as well as Friday for lunch. Saturday morning I made some eggs, grits, and a leftover pork chop for a nice country breakfast. Quick snack on Sunday night? You guessed it…pork chop. Imagine if I would have eaten out for all of those meals. We’re looking at upwards of $30. If you know you aren’t the biggest fan of eating the same meal too many days in a row then split it up. Going out for dinner with friends on Thursday? Well cook on Wednesday, go out Thursday, and eat your leftovers Friday. Personally, I use Mint.com to breakdown where my money goes, and it’s a great feeling to watch how much farther my grocery store money will go in comparison to my restaurant spending.
3. Keep Your Kitchen Stocked. It’s a lot easier to give in and get fast food when you have nothing in your fridge or pantry. As I talked about earlier, a lot of items in my meal earlier were already in my kitchen. I keep my seasoning cabinet stocked, I always keep a couple bags of frozen veggies, frozen ground beef or chicken, rice, and potatoes. I would always suggest keeping potatoes, because they are cheap, filling, and you can do so many types of meals with them. Chop them up, sauté them with onions and have them for breakfast; slice them up and make your own home fries; throw them in the oven for a classic baked potato; make mashed potatoes, or get fancy and make twice baked potatoes. I’m also a big snacker so I try to keep healthy and unhealthy snacks at the crib. I love to keep peanut butter and crackers, pita chips with pimento cheese, break & bake cookies, and of course Utz Crab Chips. Having these snacks on hand along with leftovers in the fridge helps me save money during those late night cravings after being out on the town. As much as I love Waffle House and Cook-Out, my health and wallet can’t handle having it on a regular basis.
4. Don’t Forget About Breakfast. It’s so easy to get in a rush on Monday mornings and skip breakfast, or just grab some Bojangles on the way to the office. As much as I love starting my work day off with a Cajun filet chicken biscuit (add cheese & egg), Cajun fries and a sweet tea, I can’t do that every day. So before my work week starts I make sure I have some breakfast food in the crib (breakfast bars, oatmeal, grits, bacon, frozen biscuits, etc.) It’s super easy for me to throw a frozen biscuit and bacon in the oven before I get in the shower in the mornings, and then heat up some oatmeal to have a full breakfast. Yea, you may have to get up 10 minutes earlier, but your stomach and budget will thank you. Also I don’t drink coffee at all but it’s amazing to see how much people spend on coffee every day. Do yourself a favor, buy some ground coffee, and only buy coffee out when you have to.
5. Buy Your Own Bottles. Yes I know this post is about food. But you will be amazed at how much you save when you buy your own bottles of Henny, wine, or 6-packs of beer. Yea, you can still go out to the bar, but having alcohol at home helps cut down on the amount you spend out. Not telling you to be an alcoholic….but hey nothing wrong with keeping the liquor cabinet stocked.
6. Reward Yourself. Obviously we all want to go out and eat from time to time. We fall in to the fast food cravings, and who can turn down wings at Hooters. So from time to time, reward yourself. If you made a meal last week that lasted you a couple of days, then enjoy a nice meal this weekend with your friends. Nothing wrong with that, just do it in moderation. Set goals for yourself. If you want to spend $___ on food this month, then plan out how many times that will allow you to eat out. It takes discipline but when you look at how much money you saved and are able to afford that vacation this summer, it will all be worth it.
In the future, I’ll post some more in depth food tips, along with recipes, utensils to have on hand and how to shop in bulk. So be on the look-out for that.